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Consulting with Citizens in the Design of Wellbeing Measures and Policies: Lessons from a Systems Science Application

Abstract

Internationally, there is increasing interest in, and analysis of, human wellbeing and the economic, social, environmental, and psychological factors that contribute to it. Current thinking suggests that to measure social progress and national wellbeing we need more than GDP. Experts across a range of disciplines have increasingly highlighted a number of key values and domains of measurement that are influencing the way governments in different countries are thinking about wellbeing measures and policies. Most agree that it is important to involve citizen consultation in the design of wellbeing measures and policies. There is no real consensus on how to best do so. There are, however, the warnings of recent case studies that underscore the dangers of failing to consult with citizens adequately. The current paper examines the value of citizen consultations and considers how best to optimize deliberation and co-design by experts, citizens, and politicians using systems science tools that facilitate collective intelligence and collective action. The paper opens with an overview of the international wellbeing movement and highlights key issues in the design and application of wellbeing measures in policy practice. Next, an applied system science methodology, Interactive Management (IM), is described and affordances of IM considered in relation to the challenge of facilitating citizen consultations in relation to wellbeing measurement and policy design. The method can be used to provide insight into the values, goals, and preferences of citizens; engaging all stakeholders in a democratic, consensus building process that facilitates buy-in and enhances the legitimacy of decision-making groups; facilitating transparent understanding of the reasoning that informs the systems thinking of groups. A recent application of our applied system science methodology to the design of a notional national wellbeing index for Ireland is outlined. The paper closes by highlighting the importance of adopting a wider social science toolkit to the challenge of facilitating social progress.

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Correspondence to Michael J. Hogan.

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Hogan, M.J., Johnston, H., Broome, B. et al. Consulting with Citizens in the Design of Wellbeing Measures and Policies: Lessons from a Systems Science Application. Soc Indic Res 123, 857–877 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-014-0764-x

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Keywords

  • Wellbeing
  • Policy
  • Systems thinking
  • Governance
  • Consultation